Floral fanatic: Lee’s Summit’s ‘Iron Designer’

Five Petals’ Paula Aurand visited New Orleans to test her skills against floral design’s best

acannon@lsjournal.comJune 20, 2014 

A glass vase, water, green, leafy filler plants, a yellow ribbon, an artificial butterfly and a fistful of white ranunculus are all florist Paula Aurand needs to create a smart, attractive floral arrangement.

And it took less than five minutes.

With 43 years in the flower business, it’s no surprise Aurand took a few days off from her work as a floral designer at Five Petals in downtown Lee’s Summit to compete in the Iron Designer Competition at the International Floriculture Expo in New Orleans on June 11.

Aurand compared the competition to the Food Network show “Chopped.”

“You’re given containers and flowers you’ve not seen before, have a time limit to create a design with the theme that they presented you and just use your creative power,” she said.

Against stiff competition, the first-time entrant Aurand failed to place in the top three of the seven competitors. (The winner, Ian Prosser, was in charge of all floral design surrounding President George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2005.) Aurand wasn’t discouraged and plans to enter next year’s competition in Chicago.

“It was my first competition, and I know what to expect next year,” she said.

Aurand, a Raytown native who now lives in Independence, got her start as florist while still a student at Raytown South High School, a part-time gig placing green plants in planters.

After school, she began her career at Flowers by Gladys in Raytown where most young people do, at the bottom of company hierarchy. In this case, it meant fetching things for her superiors.

“I started out as a ‘gopher,’” Aurand said. “Go for this, go for that.”

As a successful designer years later, she was quick to credit her mentors at Flowers by Gladys.

“There were some really really talented ladies there that taught me the ropes, and I’ve learned my whole time,” Aurand said.

Using that experience, she moved to Las Vegas in 1984 where she designed arrangements for all floral aspects of the newly-opened Mirage Hotel. Aurand moved to MGM/Mirage Events in 1996, where she assisted in floral design for special events like weddings and designed sets for visiting entertainers. After returning to the Kansas City area in 2010, she secured employment at Five Petals in December of 2012.

Calling Aurand’s year and a half at Five Petals “awesome,” creative director Kevin Kelley takes a mostly hands-off approach to her work.

“As creative director, it’s my job to make sure that everything that goes out of the shop is awesome,” Kelley said. “By allowing her the freedom to be creative, that, I think, really enables her to do her best work.”

After working in retail, Aurand appreciates Five Petal’s creative emphasis.

“We are definitely into the art of flowers and the beauty of the flower, so each and every piece that comes out here is a one-of-a-kind creation, design, whatever you want to call it,” she said. “This is where I flourish.”

Kelley praised Aurand creative ability even though the two have different styles, which plays into Five Petal’s team dynamic.

“We feed off of each other, rely on each other, question each other, critique each other,” he said.

In floral design, the arrangement might look good to the designer, but the customer might not like it. And the customer’s always right.

“Paula and I can both design in any customer’s style,” Kelley said. “That’s part of being a good designer, creating something that’s beautiful but in the style of the customer.”

Even with all her years of experience and trips around the United States, Aurand maintains she doesn’t have a favorite flower.

“They’re all beautiful in their own way,” she said. “There are flowers I like working with more than others, but I can’t say that I have one favorite flower.”

Despite the result at the Iron Designer Competition, Kelley thinks her inclusion in the contest says enough about her standing in the floral design community

“Just being chosen as one of seven in this whole deal was quite an honor,” he said. “She’s our little iron designer. We’re very proud of her.”

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